One of the earliest female contributors to scientific study, art, music composition, and writing was the great medieval mystic, pharmacist, theologian and proto-feminist Hildegard of Bingen. One of only four “doctors of the church”, Saint Hildegard was canonized and named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
Considered the founder of scientific natural history in Germany, Hildegard was knowns as the “Sibyl of the Rhine”. Born into a noble family in 1098, she became a Benedictine nun at the Monastery of Saint Disibodenberg at the age of 18. Hildegard reportedly had visions since the age of three, and wrote them down in her Scivias (Know the Ways) over a ten year period, in middle age. Pope Eugene III read it, and in 1147, encouraged her to continue her writing. She went on to produce short works on medicine and physiology, and hundreds of letters of correspondence between many prominent leaders of the time…including Kings, Queens and Popes.
Hildegard’s visions enabled her to see humans as “living sparks” of God’s love, and she saw the harmony of God’s creation and the place of humanity in that…a unity that was not apparent to many of her contemporaries. She often boldly spoke out against what she saw as a spineless church and evil state fighting over prestige and power.
Hildegard left behind an astounding body of work. She composed over 80 songs, wroteCausae et Curaeand Physica, which offered nutritional and medical advice and included thousands of herbal remedies…even discussing sexuality in surprisingly modern terms. She went on speaking tours in her later years, where she denounced corruption of the church, and even invented her own language and alphabet.
Hundreds of years after Scivias, the great statesman, artist, playwright and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, upon seeing it, wrote: “an old manuscript containing the visions of Saint Hildegard, is extraordinary”. Carl Jung, the highly influencial founder of analytical psychology, studied Hildegard’s works as well, and her mandala images would be a reference point for his process of individuation.
The original Scivias manuscript was lost in the chaos of World War II, when Dresden came under the occupation of Soviet troops. The manuscript remains missing to this day. Fortunately, however, in 1925 photographs of the original Sciviaswere taken as part of a series of exhibitions in Cologne. Additionally, in 1933, a duplicate manuscript was created safely kept at the Abbey of St. Hildegard, where it remains today.